Filipino student gives aid to home country after super storm
Published: Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Updated: Sunday, January 19, 2014 15:01
Gerard De Leoz started his November like any other student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, balancing work and classes. Meanwhile his home country of the Philippines balanced winds gusting over 75 miles per hour with torrential rain. He researched. They drowned underneath the cyclone. He attempted to keep his head afloat from all of his work. The islands struggled to stay afloat in the wrath of Typhoon Haiyan. And Leoz, more than a dozen time zones and a hemisphere away from home, could only watch and pray as his home endured the strongest storm on landfall ever recorded.
Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines the first week of November, leaving over 5,000 dead and affecting as many as 11 million others, some of these Leoz’s friends and loved ones. As a doctoral student of Information Technology at UNO, he watched with the rest of the world as the typhoon ravaged his home.
“When we first got news that a storm was approaching, I wasn’t concerned because it isn’t uncommon for the Philippines to be struck by typhoons at all,” Leoz said. “Then it became something we didn’t expect. Something of this magnitude, well, it was astonishing and overwhelming. There are no other words for this.”
Leoz was raised in the Philippine capital city of Manila, surrounded by his sprawling family as the fifth brother of six siblings. Despite its large number of people, this tight-knit family remains so close that they all attempted to buy houses within 15 minutes of one another as they grew up and moved out.
“I come from a very traditional family,” Leoz said. “I honestly believe the bigger your family is, the better.”
Leoz’s move to Omaha, Neb. to pursue his doctorate came as quite a shock to the bonded family. While he is in his second year of his program, Leoz has been traveling and living in the United States since 2007, when his job as a consultant had him working on projects and with clients housed in America.
Now 8,000 miles away from home, Leoz communicates with his family via weekly video chats, text messaging, phone calls and Skype. When the storm came this November, communication with his loved ones back home became increasingly important.
“I was calling and talking with my family to get the news,” Leoz said. “Even though I wasn’t there, it was important that I knew what was happening to all of them at home.”
While Haiyan demolished parts of central Philippines, Manila remained unscathed.
“My sister told me that the city was surrounded with big dark clouds,” Leoz said. “Everything was still and silent, then maybe a few rains drops fell. That’s it. Never did the city have any clue how deadly this same storm was in the central region of the country.”
Leoz is just one of the nearly 10.5 million Filipinos, over 10 percent of the country’s population, that live overseas. One of his friends hadn’t heard from his family for days after the storm because the power went out. Another struggled for days as she received frantic phone calls about missing loved ones searching for one another in the wreckage.
“One of my friends used Facebook as a way to check up on loved ones, looking at photos from his hometown,” Leoz said. “Brick walls were ripped down. Each and every photo told the same story- disaster everywhere.”
In the weeks since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Leoz has gotten in touch with filamomaha.org, an Omaha community of Filipinos, to organize with other’s from the ravaged country to send relief back home.